Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nagel On Dennett on the Fear of Religion

Thomas Nagel wrote:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”

But, many complain, Nagel isn't a real atheist, in fact, he's got to be a theist in disguise. Real atheists don't suffer from the fear of religion. 

OK, how about Daniel Dennett, in this passage from Darwin's Dangerous Idea: 

 "My own spirit recoils from a (personal) God in the same way my heart sinks when I see a lion pacing neurotically back and forth in a small zoo cage.  I know, I know the lion is beautiful but dangerous; if you let the lion roam free, it would kill me.  Safety demands that it be put in a cage.  Safety demands that religions be put in cages, too . . . . .  We just can't have the second-class status of women in Roman Catholicism."  

Now try to tell me the fear of religion doesn't exist. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The doctrine of the concealed wish

A redated post.

There are of course people in our own day to whom the whole situation seems altered by the doctrine of the concealed wish. They will admit that men, otherwise apparently rational, have been deceived by the arguments for religion. But they will say that they have been deceived first by their own desires and produced these arguments afterwards as a rationalization: that these arguments have never been intrinsically even plausible, but have seemed so because they were secretly weighted by our wishes. Now I do not doubt that this sort of thing happens in thinking about religion as in thinking about other things; but as a general explanation of religious assent it seems to me quite useless. On that issue our wishes may favour either side or both. The assumption that every man would be pleased, and nothing but pleased, if only he could conclude that Christianity is true, appears to me to be simply preposterous. – C.S. Lewis "On Obstinacy in Belief"

Gilson's Reply to Boghossian



What happened to C. S. Lewis. Could it happen to you?

For Lewis, It was matter of coming to think that there are a bunch of lines of evidence that you believe support theism, or even Christianity. If you read his book it's hard to escape the idea that he thought he had reasons to become a Christian, and that this made him psychologically uncomfortable. Whether these reasons were good or bad is not the point here. 

People like Dawkins think that the evidence against theism is overwhelming. What if someone were to gradually move from that position to believe that the case for atheism is less than overwhelming, then about 50-50, and then it starts looking like God really does exist after all. 

If that happened to someone, a lot of atheists might react the way Nagel would: 

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”

And that is how Lewis reacted when it happened to him.

Tim McGrew v. Peter Boghossian debate

Here. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Moral subjectivism and not-so-controversial ethical issues

Ethics courses, including ones that I teach, tend to focus on issues which are hard to resolve. Nobody is going to argue much over the question of whether it is morally acceptable to invite someone over for dinner, push them into the oven, and cook them AS dinner. But a subjectivist has to hold that ALL moral judgments are subjective, not just with respect to things like abortion and gay marriage, but with respect to an issue like this. Do you want to say that Hannibal Lecter has a broken moral compass, or does it make sense to say "Who's to say what's really right or wrong?," concerning Hannibal's conduct. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Comments on McCormick on Motivated Reasoning

I don't think the lecture was worthless, by any stretch of the imagination. However, there is a tricky feature to this, which is that it is easy to see the "motivated" aspects of our opponents' arguments and have a hard time seeing them our own side. I didn't like the way he took the entire field of Christian apologetics, and says that it was an example of motivated reasoning. I sketched out in "On being an apologist" how apologetics might be done without what is being called motivated reasoning. 

I thought his lecture got close to Bulverism on a couple of occasions. 

My rule is to constantly check my own thoughts for motives, but not try to speak with any authority about the motives of others. However, if opponents think there are no non-rational motives for what they think, and that all the non-rational motives are on my side, I have no trouble pointing out at least possible non-rational motives that they might have. Since they can't read my mind, all the can come up with are possible motivations I might have for believing as I do.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Robert Merrihew Adams" Moral Arguments for Theistic Belief

Here. 

How many sexual orientations are there?

On interesting question in this area is what counts as an "orientation." Are there two orientations, straight and gay, are there three, straight, day and bi, does a preference for group sex count, or a preference for multiple partners or one partner? Does bestiality and pedophilia count?

The reason I bring this us is that defense of gay relationships typically goes something like this.

1. A sexual orientation is, in many cases an unchangeable fact about a person that can't be altered by the use of free will.

2. If a person has an orientation, then a person has a moral right to an intimate life in accordance with that orientation. Celibacy should not be morally enforced on someone.

3. If one's orientation is homosexual, and this can't be changed then one should have the right to express that orientation in an intimate relationship, and society (and the institution of marriage) should recognize this fact.

But I think few of us, apart from members of NAMBLA, would use that argument in defense of, let's say, pedophilia. It seems that if you are a pedophile, and you can't change that "orientation," given the degree of harm that that does, you are morally obligated to be celibate.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Lecture on motivated reasoning by Matt McCormick

It seems as if this cries out for a tu quoque response, given the fact that McCormick runs what is essentially an atheist apologetics website.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Russell on Fideistic Faith: Pusillanimous and sniveling?

A redated post. 

There is something pusillanimous and sniveling about this point of view, that makes me scarcely able to consider it with patience. To refuse to face facts merely because they are unpleasant is considered the mark of a weak character, except in the sphere of religion. I do not see how it can be ignoble to yield to the tyranny of fear in all terrestrial matters, but noble and virtuous to do the same things where God and the future life are concerned.

Bertrand Russell, The Value of Free Thought (1944).

On being an apologist

Glenn Peoples argues against getting an apologetics degree, here.

I replied as follows:

I think I agree, at least in principle.
Let me use C. S. Lewis as an example. Here you have the most influential figure in apologetics in the last century, and guess what? He pretty much backed in to the arena. He wrote books when he was asked to write them or when he was asked to appear on radio. He went from atheism through a long path to concluding that Christianity is true, and then became a Christian. He came to Christian conclusion by reflecting on various things, and then wrote apologetics to why he came to believe as he did.

Today the word “apologist,” in many circles, has a negative connotation. The idea is that you we committed to begin with to Christianity and then went out looking for reasons why someone should believe it. My goal is to think as clearly and as carefully as I can about what is true, to do my “job”, which happens to be philosophy, and if there are apologetic implication to that, then “apologetics” is a matter of sharing those. If I really think an argument is indefensible, then I shouldn’t be presenting it even if I think it will be widely accepted by many people. I remember it took some time in graduate school before I was fully convinced that the argument from reason, which I ended up writing my dissertation and a book about, was a good one.
I think you have to do philosophy, or science, or mathematics, or biblical studies first, as honestly as you can, and if think there are positive apologetic implications for what you say, then by all means share them and defend them.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Free Will and Mocking Beliefs

Bob: I see nothing wrong with critiquing or even mocking someone's beliefs. Christianity is a belief system. That is quite different from being gay or having black skin. People can't change their ethnicity or sexual orientation. However, they can change their belief system.

VR: Doesn't this presuppose a distinction between free actions, for which we are morally responsible, and characteristics we can't change, for which we are not responsible. This seems like a distinction that New Atheists insist on collapsing, such as here?


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tom Clark's case against contempt

From naturalism.org.

Here. 

Chapter 14 of Surprised by Joy

Here. 

It ends with this famous passage. 


You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

C. S. Lewis rejects idealism

A tutor must make things clear. Now the Absolute cannot be made clear. Do you mean Nobody-knows-what, or do you mean a superhuman mind and therefore (we may as well admit) a Person? After all, did Hegel and Bradley and all the rest of them ever do more than add mystifications to the simple, workable, theistic idealism of Berkeley? I thought not. And didn't Berkeley's "God" do all the same work as the Absolute, with the added advantage that we had at least some notion of what we meant by Him? I thought He did. So I was driven back into something like Berkeleyanism; but Berkeleyanism with a few top dressings of my own. I distinguished this philosophical "God" very sharply (or so I said) from "the God of popular religion." There was, I explained, no possibility of being in a personal relation with Him. For I thought He projected us as a dramatist projects his characters, and I could no more "meet" Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare. I didn't call Him "God" either; I called Him "Spirit." One fights for one's remaining comforts.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Anti-Christian bullying

Apparently it happens. For some reason, we don't hear about it as much as we about, say, anti-LGBT bullying.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The One True Religion Fallacy

Here.  

HT: Bob Prokop

Was Dan Quayle Right? (about single mothers)

Apparently, he is still being defended, here. 

Intelligent Design asks a legitimate question, whatever else you might think

Im-Skeptical wrote: Science shows that evolution is a purely natural process, even though you might think there is still some divine hand behind it, sort of telling nature how to behave. But that's not what "ID science" claims. They specifically reject natural evolution. They say that complex life forms could not have evolved naturally. You can call this an anti-ID backlash if you want. What I'm against is their rejection of science in matters that are well settled.

Now here is what I think problematic about this type of argument. We can begin with a distinction between design exclusion and design denial. Design exclusion just says that design is not brought into a scientific explanation for, say, why the bacterial flagellum works the way it does. If that's the case, then science can't say that the B-F was designed (since that would be not to do science), but it also can't say that it wasn't. If we are adhering to a strict methodological naturalism, then all we can say is that since we're science over here, we can't make design part of the explanation for the B-F. The question of design is left outside the competence of science. Many people in science adhere to this kind of a position. Some are theists and some are atheists. Operating this way, it is easy to get to the conclusion that naturalistic evolution is the best science, because it's the only game in town by definition. The result is some version of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria). Consistently applied this leads to a kind of "language game" perspective where scientists are playing the scientific language game, but that wouldn't prevent someone from playing the religious language game and affirming creation. The claim that one perspective or the other represents reality would be regarded on this view to be a mistake. 

But methodological naturalism gets challenged on both sides. People who think science should affirm a designer are going to see this as an unjustified limitation on science, and also those, like Dawkins, who argue that the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design have to argue that science could have reached the opposite result if the evidence had been different. But then we have to go back through the history of biology to figure out whether the dog is wagging its tail or the tail is wagging the dog. Did naturalistic evolution become the only game in town because of methodological constraints, or would scientists have found design if only it had been there. Because methodological arguments have so often been used in defense of evolution, I consider it unfair to call ID advocates IDiots, since they are asking a perfectly legitimate question. 

Mutual Submission in Ephesians

This is a debate concerning whether the Bible really teaches that husbands are supposed to have a one-way authority over their wives. One of the passages that is often used to support this is Ephesians 5:22, but it Ephesians 5:21 Paul says “Submit (or, submitting) to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

Wayne Grudem is a critic of the idea of mutual submission, but Margaret Mowzscko defends it. I'm definitely on Margaret's side here. It seems to me that one-way submission opens the door for abuse.

Craig on the AFR

Here. 

Angus Menuge on the argument from reason

Here.  Wintery Knight has put together some resources.

Alexander Pruss's version of the Cosmological Argument

Here. 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Women in the Colorado philosophy department reply

Here.  Alison Jaggar, in particular, is a well-known feminist philosopher.

Steve Thomas interviews me

A redated post.

Steve Thomas did an interview of me that spells out some basics of the Argument from Reason. It was done before C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea was published.

Friday, May 02, 2014